Celtic Heart: an Interview with Cormac O’ Caoimh

Image courtesy of Cormac O’ Caoimh

Cormac O’ Caoimh is an exciting, singularly brilliant singer-songwriter and classical guitarist from Cork, Ireland. He has just released his second solo cd ‘A New Season for Love’ and it’s currently receiving excellent reviews and a significant amount of airplay in the UK.

In the UK, he is currently Play Irish Artist of the Month and was featured on the RTE 1 Show Arena in May.

His intimate vocals, poetic and evocative lyrics and exquisitely crafted melodies-all beautifully framed within his flawless acoustic guitar work-is attracting the attention of the music press, djs and an ever-growing audience.

Cormac is not new to the music scene; he has already received plenty of exposure for both his earlier solo release and as singer-songwriter for The Citadels.

O’ Caoimh has picked up some well-known admirers along the way, including Ron Sexsmith and Tom Robinson (BBC Radio) and has shared the stage with fellow luminaries such as Declan O’ Rourke, Josh Rouse, Mark Geary and Nick Kelly, to name but a few.

O’ Caoimh has also ventured further afield, playing headlining gigs and slots in Edinburgh, London, Amsterdam and New York.  His solo live performances vary between fast and frenetic indie-pop acoustic guitar to slower tunes heavily influenced by his classical guitar background and jazz-influenced folk music tunes.

From his home in the lush, green hills of Ireland, Cormac O’ Caoimh had this to say to The Los Angeles Beat:

Cormac, you’re a seasoned veteran on the UK music scene, but (not yet) well known to American audiences. Can you give a brief run-down of your career to our readers?

Absolutely, Shirley. Would love to. Well…to be honest, I’m not exactly a household name on the UK scene either. It would be something if people in theUKcould pronounce my name. At least people in Ireland can pronounce my name (sometimes). For the record “Caoimh” is pronounced kind of like “Qweeeeve”. Rhymes with Steve.

I used to be in a band called The Citadels. We had a nice run. Made some good records. Played some nice gigs and eventually called it a day. In terms of solo cds..I have two out now and another one on the way. The early band stuff was probably more upbeat catchy stuff. I was strumming mostly then but the past 5 or 6 years I have been getting more and more into finger style playing and the latest cds and the all the live stuff is 90% finger picking playing these days. I started classical guitar fairly on. But for years it was always a separate thing. Performing songs on one hand and playing classical pieces on the other…but those two sides of guitar playing seem to be merging closer together recently.

For more info on the history of the band and meself readers could visit http://www.cormaco.net

What/who got you interested in music to begin with?

Well, I come from a musical family. My dad was in a band, and my brothers and sister play music.  There were always instruments lying around. Growing up, I was probably the least musical. I had various music lessons for various instruments (piano, mandolin, tin whistle) and hated them all.

Eventually I took up the guitar myself, at a late enough age-I think I was 17 or 18-when everyone was out and no one could hear I’d start strumming away. From the word “go” I started writing songs, possibly because I didn’t have the ear or the skill to play real songs. It was easier for me at the start to write a one chord song and then a two chord song.

Since then, ever still improving as a guitar player and songwriting have gone hand in hand with me. Every time I learned a new chord I wrote a song. The Citadels music coincided with me learning major 7 ths, so they feature a lot. And still do.

Your latest album ‘A New Season For Love’ is getting rave reviews! Musicians Together says of ‘Counting the Raindrops’: “It’s the best song on the album and indeed one of the best songs to come out of Ireland over the last ten years. This is to me the perfect song.” How do you feel about that assessment?

I feel that assessment is perfectly accurate 🙂

Ha…no.  What I should say is part of that is accurate, but it’s the worst song on the album. The others are better…I’m only joking!

It would be great to say I don’t care about reviews and I don’t care if they are good or bad, but that is not true.  If you are struggling, and not in the small percentage of musicians who can make a good living making music then there are times when you have doubts about what you are doing or what you should be doing and whether or not you should continue doing it. Some positive feedback from someone who gets why you are doing it and likes it, be it from a journalist doing a review or someone after a gig or a comment on Facebook or Youtube, can be encouraging and welcome.

Who have been some of your greatest influences?

I love both the catchy-ness and pop sensibility of bands like The Go-Betweens, Prefab Sprout, The Dream Academy, 80’s indie pop bands, as well as the guitar playing and lyrics of the singer-songwriters like Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen. So I like to think I fall nicely somewhere between those two genres. I think Elliott Smith for example would fit that same space. Somewhere between Nick Drake and The Go-Betweens. These days though         I can’t stop listening to Paul Buchanan’s new album. It is all I have been listening to for months.

You have picked up quite a few well-known admirers along the way, among them Ron Sexsmith and Tom Robinson of the BBC. How does that make you feel knowing that such high profile personalities think so highly of your music?

Hmm…well I should say it makes me feel the same as anyone else liking the music. But honestly, if someone you admire yourself, someone you know who has worked hard honing their craft and developing their own songwriting, if someone like that endorses or praises your work then it does mean a lot.  And it can give you encouragement the days you feel like packing it all in.

Over the years, you have shared the stage with an impressive list of musical artists, among them Declan O’Rourke and Damien Rice. Were there any particular shows that stand out in your mind as especially memorable, and why?

I really enjoyed supporting Declan O Rourke in the Everyman Theatre (and in Cyprus Avenue for that matter) but the one I enjoyed the most was supporting Damien Rice in the Paradiso, Amsterdam. I was in contact with his management a month or so before the gig and told a white lie that I would be in Amsterdam on the day of the gig anyways. They contacted the venue owners and the venue contacted me a day or two before the gig. I had forgotten all about it,  had to frantically search for tickets and accommodation, but jumped at the chance.  It was well worth it. It was a lovely venue and the crowd were really into it.

Doing the supports can be tough because the crowd is not there to see you. That is fair enough. But it is great to play support to acts where they do give the support slot a fair listen. And that gig in Paradiso was very special. The full crowd had not arrived in yet, but those who were there sat on the floor, listened and were very appreciative.

You have performed and recorded both solo as well as with your band The Citadels. Which has been the most artistically satisfying for you, or were they equally rewarding?

For ‘A New Season for love’ I was working with Art O Laoire and Eoghan Regan who were both in The Citadels anyways. For my first solo cd ‘Start a spark’ I was working with Jason O’ Driscoll who was amazing and played drums, bass, electric guitar and backing vocals.  So therefore the recording is very much a full band sound.

And the The Citadels album was great because it was a bunch of us recording in a house together, putting down all tracks live. So I enjoyed all of them.  But in terms of choosing the right bunch of songs that suited and complimented each and creating an album that works as a whole-rather than just a bunch of songs-the new one ‘A New Season for Love’ has definitely been the most rewarding so far.

What is it about Ireland that seems to produce so many high profile artists of such depth and power?

I’m not sure. I don’t even know if that’s true. But I do think Irish acts follow trends less, and are more about the music and the songs than the clothes and the hair style. I think they concentrate more on developing their own voice, rather than copying the latest fad or style.

Can American audiences expect to be seeing you tour here soon?

I did make it to New York for a few gigs a couple of years ago, and would love to go back again sometime.

How would you like future generations to remember you as an artist and a man?

He was a fair and kind man who wrote good songs….oh no wait…he was a fair and kind, good looking man who wrote good songs…oh that’s not right either.

“He was a fair, kind, modest, good-looking man who wrote good songs.”

For more information you visit




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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Shirley Pena

About Shirley Pena

A native of Southern California, Shirley Peña began her career as a music journalist almost twenty years ago, writing for her websites "Stars In My Eyes: the Girlhowdy Website" and "La Raza Rock!" and progressed to creating various fan sites on Yahoo, including the first for New Zealand singer/songwriter Tim Finn. From there, she became a free agent, arranging online interviews for Yahoo fan clubs with various music artists (Andy White, John Crawford, Debora Iyall, John Easdale, etc.). She also lent her support in creating and moderating a number of Yahoo fan clubs for various music artists from the 1990s-today. As a music journalist, Shirley Peña has contributed to a number of magazines (both hard copy and online), among them: Goldmine, American Songwriter, Classic Drummer Magazine and UK-based Keyboard Player (where she was a principal journalist). A self-confessed "fanatic" of 1960s "British Invasion" bands, Classic Rock and nostalgic "Old Hollywood ", she also keeps her finger on the pulse of current trends in music, with a keen eye for up and coming artists of special merit. Shirley Peña loves Los Angeles, and is thrilled to join the writing staff of The Los Angeles Beat!
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